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Sports

Expect (more of) the unexpected as Burkina Faso faces Togo

media A supporter of Burkina Faso Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Burkina hopes to have some surprises up its sleeve when it takes on Togo in the CAN quarter-finals. 

The counter-intuitive has borne fruit for Paul Put at the Africa Cup of Nations. When his team went down to 10 men during the second Group C game against a rampant Ethiopia, the Burkina Faso coach left two attackers up front and turned a defensive midfielder into a ball spraying fantasista.

The result was three goals scored on the counter-attack for a 4-0 rout.

“It worked perfectly wonderful,” he beamed after the game.

So it’s hardly surprising then that the amiable Belgian has been showing his players videos of unheralded victors.

“You can see there are always surprises in football,” he tells RFI on the eve of Burkina Faso’s quarter-final clash with Togo.

“That was my motivation before the first game. I showed them images of Greece winning Euro 2004. They’ve been shown Chelsea who won the 2012 Uefa Champions League when nobody expected they’d do it. Even Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations last year against the odds.”

Indeed.

So do we lament awhile the fallen kings or sing paeans to their legacy? 

Whichever. Both dirge and tribute are appropriate. But it’s ironic that Burkina Faso put the nail in the Zambian coffin with their 0-0 draw on 29 January.

The stalemate left Hervé Renard’s Zambia third in Group C behind Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Ethiopia, after their opening match heroics against Zambia, finished last.

But Zambia in their departure have bequeathed a west African version of themselves.

Put’s mantra to his squad is about the collective, tactical discipline and belief. All straight out of the Renard handbook of 2012.

He claims the pressure is off Burkina Faso in the game against Togo because they have surpassed their goals.

“Our side wrote history by having won a game at the finals so it’s already been a celebration. There’s not so much tension around because our tournament has been good.”

But he admits the players have to deal with another layer of expectation; the chance of a semi-final. No team from the country has attained that after going through qualifying rounds.

Back in 1998 the Frenchman Philippe Troussier led Burkina Faso to a fourth-placed finish but they started off as hosts.

Put’s achievement would be greater especially since he inherited a squad that lost all three of its matches at last year’s tournament.

“I know it’s the same players who were there in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea,” says Put. “But now they’ve a chance to do something that’s never been done before. They have to do their level best to achieve this.”

There’s clearly burgeoning confidence between the players and the coach as well as his methods.

“They have the same fighting spirit but there’s a bit more realism about them now,” he says. “It’s also a question of psychology.”

His eyes twinkle as he divulges the formula. “You have to find stories that you believe and that the players believe and, of course, that the players believe you believe.”

With that conundrum posited he’s off to embrace an attractive, elegantly clad female journalist.

On his return from the brief encounter he smiles, “I’ve done that on the day before every game and we haven’t lost.”

Ever so logical, the superstitious.

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